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Phosphorus is a nutrient that is vital for all life on Earth. Over the years, it has become more and more difficult to get hold of the supplies needed by the agricultural and industrial sectors – especially as Europe has to import practically all of its requirements. Both the limited availability and the poor quality of the virgin raw material is forcing us to find ways to recover phosphorus so that it can be reused. Sustainable phosphorus recovery systems are, therefore, playing an increasingly important role. The German government has set out in law that phosphorus must be recovered from municipal sewage sludge and returned to production cycles from 2029 onwards.
It has been a long while since sewage treatment plants were considered to be simply a waste disposal facility. For many years now, they have been operating as innovative recycling plants – recovering water, energy and minerals. Thanks to a process patented by REMONDIS, the company is now able to recover many different types of marketable recycled raw materials and energy from sewage sludge. During the first stage of the process, the sewage sludge undergoes thermal treatment.
Phosphorus is a finite raw material – many countries are dependent on imports, including the whole of Europe.
The phosphate in the ash is dissolved in diluted phosphoric acid during the second stage of the process. The raw material is then recovered and cleaned in a number of different steps. Thanks to this system, RePacid® phosphoric acid can be produced for manufacturing phosphates. RePacid® is so pure that it is of a higher quality than the raw material from natural resources. It does not contain any heavy metals or pollutants, both of which can be found in imported phosphate rock. Moreover, this process produces iron and aluminium salts, which can be used to eliminate phosphates at the sewage treatment plant – closing another important material life cycle. Other products include gypsum and the mineral-depleted ash for the building supplies industry.
A comparison: recovering and recycling all the phosphorus from the volumes of sewage sludge produced in Germany every year is equivalent to the carbon footprint of 27 million trees.